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Rape of the Lock

The Rape of the Lock is a mock-heroic poem written by Alexander Pope and published in May 1712. The poem is based on an incident involving Arabella Fermor and her suitor, possibly Lord Petre. During a visit, the suitor asked for, and then took ("raped") a locket of hair from Arabella. Pope refigures Arabella as Belinda and introduces an entire system of "sylphs," or guardian spirits of virgins, and creates an epic out of a petty squabble.

The humor of the poem comes from the juxtaposition of this tempest in a teapot of vanity with the elaborate, formal verbal structure of an epic poem. When the Baron, for example, goes to snip the lock of hair, Pope says,

The Peer now spreads the glittering Forfex wide,
T' inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.
Ev'n then, before the fatal Engine clos'd,
A wretched Sylph too fondly interpos'd;
Fate urged the Sheers, and cut the Sylph in twain,
(But Airy Substance soon unites again)
The meeting Points the sacred Hair dissever
From the fair Head, for ever and for ever!
- Canto III, Alexander Pope

In effect, Pope inflates the already over-blown passions to show just how silly it all is.

The poem was very well received and helped cement Pope's reputation as the foremost poet of his age.

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